The Pirates Should Do Nothing This Off-Season

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates lost out on their top free agent target, Jorge De La Rosa, after the left hander signed an incredibly player friendly deal to remain in Colorado.  Now that De La Rosa is gone, the focus shifts to some of the other names the Pirates are pursuing.  Honestly, looking at some of the names, I think they should just pack it in this winter.

Dejan Kovacevic takes a look at the middle tier, which is now the focus for the Pirates.  In the article, he mentions that the Pirates have pursued Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis, Justin Duchscherer, and Scott Olsen, and have appeared to zero in on Olsen.  We heard last week that the Pirates were “deeply interested” in Olsen.

On the shortstop front, we learned yesterday that the Pirates were one of five teams interested in trading for Jason Bartlett.  We also learned that the Pirates have shown an interest in Lance Berkman.  The Pirates haven’t been linked to Derrek Lee, although Kovacevic mentions that Lee would be the best fit for the Pirates’ desire to add a right handed power hitting first baseman.

So let’s recap.  The Pirates have a need for at least one starting pitcher, a shortstop upgrade, and a power bat at first base.  Their top targets seem to be Scott Olsen, Jason Bartlett, and Lance Berkman.  I haven’t been in a DeLorean recently, nor have I been in a hot tub, so I don’t think I’ve been exposed to time travel.  There must be another reason why it feels like 2006 around here.

The Pirates have constantly said “we’re not going to spend just to spend”.  That line gets criticized, but it’s the right move.  Spending money on a player only makes sense if the player can upgrade the team.  Unfortunately, the above options look to be more of the “spending just to spend” variety.  Even worse, they look like the “Dave Littlefield One Year Stop Gap” signings we saw for the better part of the last decade.

Olsen could be the top target now that De La Rosa is gone.

Let’s start off with Scott Olsen.  On the field, Olsen has been nothing special.  His fastball in the early part of his career could touch 94 MPH, although in recent years he has only touched 92, and averages 89 MPH.  He has two somewhat good seasons under his belt.  The 2006 season, when he put up a 4.04 ERA in 180.2 innings, and 2008, when he had a 4.20 ERA in 201.2 innings.  The 2006 season was somewhat legit, with a 4.07 xFIP, although his 2008 season was a fluke, with a 4.95 xFIP.  Olsen was lucky in 2008, thanks to a .266 BABIP.

Off the field, Olsen has some well known attitude problems.  He was even suspended by the Florida Marlins for getting in to fights with teammates on multiple occasions.  He’s been limited to 143.2 innings the past two seasons due to labrum surgery in 2009, and a set back on his left shoulder in 2010.  He did put up a 4.39 xFIP in 2010, as he was unlucky with a .321 BABIP and a 63% strand rate.

Overall you’ve got a guy recovering from an injury, with a history of attitude problems and conflicts with teammates, and who wasn’t exactly a strong starter before the injury issues came up.  I have no problem with taking a guy coming off an injury, but Olsen wouldn’t be my choice, mostly due to the attitude and the poor results before the injury.  I’d rather see the Pirates go after Jeff Francis, who has a similar injury to Olsen, or Justin Duchscherer, who is very injury prone, but has top of the rotation numbers when healthy.

Then there’s Jason Bartlett.  I mentioned two trends yesterday.  First is the trend of his yearly OPS totals.  He had an .879 OPS in 2009, although he’s been under .700 every other year from 2007-2010.  Those years are significant, as those are the years he served as an every day starter.  His 2009 season at the plate looks like a career year.  Offense isn’t the most important thing for a shortstop upgrade.  The Pirates need defense.  Unfortunately, that’s another negative trend for Bartlett.  His UZR/150 has gone down every year since 2005, and has been worse than Ronny Cedeno the last two years.

Bartlett is on the decline defensively, and is more of a sub-.700 OPS hitter offensively.  I really don’t think he would be an upgrade over Cedeno.  I mentioned two shortstops yesterday that could be upgrades for the Pirates.  I’d rather see the Pirates pursue J.J. Hardy, who would probably cost the same as Bartlett to acquire, but who is a much stronger option defensively.  Also, if we’re banking on one of those two players bouncing back offensively, my money would be on Hardy, since he has had more than one good year at the plate.  I’d also rather see the Pirates add Ryan Theriot, since he’s stronger defensively than Bartlett, similar offensively, and would be much cheaper to acquire, while being under control for two years.

Finally there’s the first base options.  Lance Berkman is another player on the decline, turning 35 in February.  His home run totals have dropped every year since 2006, going from 45 in 2006 to 14 in 2010.  He is also coming off a bad year in 2010 with a .248/.368/.413 line in 404 at-bats.  He definitely doesn’t seem like the answer to the power hitting needs of the team.

As for Derrek Lee, the Pirates haven’t been linked to him, and he prefers to go to a contender, but I wouldn’t call him the answer even if the Pirates wanted him and he was open to coming here.  Lee will want a one year deal to try and re-establish himself on the market.  He’s coming off a down year with a major blow to his power production.  He also just had surgery on his thumb in November, which could have impacted him during the season, and might impact him in 2011.

So let’s recap the guys the Pirates are going after.  First, you’ve got Scott Olsen, who is a pitcher coming off a major injury, with well documented attitude problems, and poor results prior to his injury issues.  You’ve got Jason Bartlett, who is on the decline defensively, and who looks like a one year wonder offensively.  Then there’s Lance Berkman, who has seen a decline in power every year, with a horrible overall season in 2010.

None of that screams “upgrade”.  It screams “spending just to spend”, but it doesn’t provide any upgrades.  I’d rather go with Charlie Morton or Brad Lincoln over Olsen, Cedeno over Bartlett, and Garrett Jones over Berkman, with Lastings Milledge playing in right field.  I’m pretty sure that the overall results would be the same, although much cheaper, which saves that money for better investments, like extending Andrew McCutchen, or spending on good players once the team has shown the ability to be competitive.

There has been some talk that the Pirates may be forced to spend money this off-season.  If that’s the case, I’d much rather they spend that money on McCutchen, or pool it together and add a better player than Olsen/Bartlett/Berkman.  If the quality of players they are going to add is limited to those three players, then I’d rather see the Pirates do absolutely nothing this off-season.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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